(Parts 1 & 2) Counsel of Chalcedon, Vol. 16, Nos. 1 & 2, (Mar.-April, 1994) Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
A Living Apologetic
A Defense of the Faith That Glorifies God
Pastor Randy Booth
Preparation for a good defense of the Faith must necessarily include the self-conscious development of godly attitudes and actions, both in general as well as during the apologetic encounter with the unbeliever. Defending the Faith is a comprehensive task for every Christian. While it is convenient to subdivide the field of apologetics,1 it is imperative that these subdivisions of study and practice be reunited to perform the overall task in harmony. The plant may be dissected in the laboratory and each part (petal, stem, leaf, root, etc.) may be analyzed and studied. Yet, the plant's beauty may only be fully appreciated when viewed as a whole in its natural context.
It is easy to be a good technician of the parts while at the same time failing to appreciate the telos of the whole. Presuppositional apologetics demands more than the comprehension of one's intellectual starting point; it also demands that each defender of the faith appreciate and consistently apply the various implications of such a starting point. The Scriptures require believers to function presuppositionally at every level, including the heart, the mind, the attitude, and the outward conduct of the individual defender of the faith. Faithfulness to our God and His revelation, which is our presupposition, is the overriding objective of all Christian confrontation with the world.
As sad as it is to see Christians attempt to defend the Faith with an unsound apologetic method, it can be even more tragic to see persons who demonstrate an intellectually and theologically solid defense and yet render that very defense null and void through the inconsistency of their inward attitudes and outward conduct. This may manifest itself through the obvious inconsistency of an immoral or ungodly life in general, or it may, in a moment, undermine the defense through the arrogance and harshness of the one arguing for the faith. Just as the verbal, intellectual, and logical defense of Christianity must be prepared with a consistent commitment to a presuppositional approach, likewise the attitude and outward conduct of the defender must be prepared with a consistent commitment to biblical presuppositionalism.
The apostle Peter addressed a common obstacle for believers as they encounter the unbelieving world -- intimidation. The arrogance and foolishness of unbelief asserts itself in the face of believers, leading many Christians to shrink away from the apologetic task. 1 Peter 3:13-14 says:
And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.
The cultural elite of the universities, media, sciences, arts, and political realm, along with organized interest groups such as feminists, abortionists, and homosexuals, continually seek to blame society's ills on the Christian faith. They have become like Goliath, intimidating God's people: "...the Philistine said, 'I defy the ranks of Israel this day; give me a man that we may fight together.' When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid" (1 Sam. 17:10-11). The believer may also find these intimidating Goliaths in the form of a relative, a neighbor, a co-worker, or even a friend. The Lord still seeks men "after His own heart" to take on these pseudo-giants for His name sake.
More than offering words of comfort, Peter commands believers not to be intimidated by their opponents. Christians occupy the high ground, not the unbeliever. The unbeliever is all veneer and no substance. Like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz, the unbeliever is bluster and illusion, and he wants the Christian to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." The believer must defend the faith, not by shrinking away and avoiding confrontation, but rather by self-consciously preparing himself for a head-on confrontation with unbelief.
Peter directs believers to combat the attacks of unbelievers by preparing themselves to defend the faith in four areas. Peter writes:
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-16).
First, the believer must "sanctify Christ as Lord" in their hearts. This submission to the authority of Christ over every area of our lives provides the epistemic and ethical foundation for the apologetic task. Second, we must ready ourselves to make a verbal "defense (apologia) to every one who asks." While this is generally the area of focus when we think of apologetics i.e., the intellectual defense of the faith, I would suggest that the intellectual aspect of apologetics never stands isolated from the other necessary preparations. Third, the believer, in order to properly defend the faith, must show forth a godly attitude. His manner of dealing with the unbeliever must be with "gentleness and reverence," not arrogance or hostility. Finally, Peter tells us that the unbeliever will be defeated, brought to shame, or made to blush by means of our godly conduct. A godly life is difficult for the unbeliever to argue with. It stands in sharp contrast with his own manner of living and also confirms, in outward form, that which he knows in his heart of hearts concerning the character of God.
If the Christian is to be genuinely prepared for the apologetic task, each of these areas of his life must coordinate with one another to produce a consistent testimony to the truth. A claim that Christ is the epistemic Lord must, of necessity, be coupled with attitudes and conduct that demonstrate the genuineness of such a claim. Paul not only says the Scriptures will give you "wisdom" (2 Tim. 3:15) but that they will also equip you "for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:17). Being able to intellectually defend the faith without godly attitudes and conduct can only undermine and contradict any intellectual claims to possess the truth. Jesus made it clear that our obedience provided evidence of our love for Him: "If you love Me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
The Christian faith is a worldview; it encompasses the totality of the Christian's life. Therefore, every area of our lives must be prepared for the apologetic encounter with the unbelieving world. Any aspect of the believer's interaction with the unbeliever i.e., intellectual, attitudinal, or behavioral, that is neglected and not brought under the Lordship of Christ will diminish the effectiveness of the believer's apologetic. Godly attitude and conduct without an intellectual defense fails; intellectual preparation without godly attitude and conduct will also end in failure. In Romans 1 we see the inevitable result of the rejection of the Christian worldview is that those who reject the truth of Christianity become corrupt in their personal conduct. Attitudes of hostility, arrogance, and rebellion in the unbeliever produce immoral and unethical behavior.
Evidentialism Inadequate -- Presuppositionalism Necessary
As those who profess to own Christian presuppositions, we must manifest the corresponding godly conduct that flows from such biblical presuppositions. The evidentialist approach to apologetics cannot consistently demand Christian conduct from the apologist. If the Christian is permitted to approach the facts, along with the unbeliever, in a "neutral" fashion, then why is the Christian expected to bring Christian conduct to such a "neutral" meeting? To presume that the Christian may enter the "neutral zone" when it comes to the intellect, and yet simultaneously remain firmly planted in distinctively Christian ethics proves to be a contradiction. If the apologist has a distinctively Christian way of thinking, then a distinctively Christian ethic will necessarily be evident. Neutral thinking cannot justify a distinctively Christian ethic. A man's ethical conduct must either presuppose the truth or falsity of the Christian faith.2 In fact, thinking is a form of conduct -- it is something we do. To lust after a woman in the mind is to be guilty of adultery (Matt. 5:28). If we were to abandon our submission to the epistemic Lordship of Christ over our minds in order to occupy a "neutral" position, even for a moment, we would leave ourselves ethically severed from our moral anchor. The presuppositional apologetic continuously provides the ethical foundation for the believer's interaction with unbelievers by constantly demanding submission of every aspect of the believer's life to the authority of God's Word. The allegedly "neutral" mind of the evidentialist has no obligation (according to his own claim of neutrality) to produce any ethical standard at all. If the thinking is neutral, then so is the conduct of the thinker.
The apologetic task is focused upon the believing mind as it confronts the unbelieving mind. Neither the mind of the believer nor the mind of the unbeliever operates apart from the whole person. One's thoughts and actions are related as are cause and effect. "For as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Prov. 23:7). Paul notes this connection in Colossians 1:21-22: "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach." The "hostile" mind is necessarily "engaged in evil deeds." In contrast, the "reconciled" mind is necessarily "holy and blameless and beyond reproach."
Natural and Special Revelation
God's words (i.e., His special revelation), and God's actions (God's natural revelation) do not contradict one another. Both God's words and actions stand in mutual support of one another and bear testimony to the truth. This fact of God's consistency in word and deed is the very point that the presuppositional apologist seeks to drive home to the unbeliever. We argue that the only way to explain the world in which we live (i.e., God's created order) is to presuppose the truth of God's Word. When God's created order (i.e., His works) are understood via His special revelation (i.e., His Word), then the truth is accurately revealed. Likewise, the apologist's works (i.e., his attitude and conduct) must be consistent with his words (i.e., his verbal defense of the faith). We might think of the believer's conduct as being analogous to God's natural revelation, and the believer's words as analogous to God's special revelation. Only when the two forms of revelation point in the same direction is an effective defense projected to the unbeliever. The apologist needs not only to analogically "think God's thoughts after Him," but he must also analogically conduct himself in the ways of God.
The inseparable connection of our words and our lives is assumed as the logical consequent of the genuine work of God. Spoken words and arguments are powerless and empty without a corresponding behavior being evident in the one who bears the message. The effective apologist for the faith must conduct himself toward the unbeliever in such a way that his behavior proves to be an example of both the knowledge of God and the grace of God. As Paul recollects his first encounter with the Thessalonians, while they were still unbelieving idolaters, he says:
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living God (1 Thess. 1:5-9).
The apostle goes on to demonstrate how the attitude and conduct of those who had come to present the gospel gave credibility and power to the words which they spoke to them:
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God... And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe (1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13).
Paul's labor with the Thessalonians, while they were yet idolaters, certainly involved both evangelistic and apologetic work. He reminds the Thessalonian Christians that it was the attitude and conduct of those who had brought them the message of God's Word that gave power and credibility to what they had to say. Their lives testified that their words were indeed the truth. Dr. Cornelieus Van Til observed:
What Scripture emphasizes is that even apart from special revelation, men ought to see that God is the Creator of the world.3
Likewise, redeemed and regenerate men, apart from their spoken word, should evidence the truth of that redemption and regeneration. Both the words and works of God, and the words and works of believers, bring evidence to bear down on the unbeliever; both leave him without excuse; both widen the antithesis between belief and unbelief; both must cause the unbeliever to "be put to shame"
Consistency and Antithesis
Presuppositional apologetics should emphasize the antithesis between the Christian and non-Christian worldviews. It seeks to point out the inconsistency and arbitrariness of both the unbeliever's worldview and how he lives his life in relation to his professed worldview. Likewise, the Christian cannot put forth a credible defense of the faith if either his words or his deeds undermine one another through inconsistency.
The Christian worldview can account for the presence of some sin in the life of a believer: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). However, the Christian faith does not allow for gross sinful conduct on the part of the believer: "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, let no one deceive you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil..." (1 John 3:6-8a).
Every fact of the universe is a point-of-contact for the believer with the unbeliever. So too, every fact of the believer's life, (i.e., thought, attitude, and conduct) are also points-of-contact with the unbeliever. The Christian stands in continual confrontation with the unbelieving world as he interacts and responds to challenges to his faith. The believer has a point-of-contact with the unbeliever as they discuss the way in which each of them live and conduct themselves in relation to their respective presuppositions.
How do they each account for their ethical standards as well as their ethical performance? Moreover, this ethical point-of-contact may prove to be more powerful and useful in getting to the heart of the problem of unbelief, which is the unbeliever's ethical rebellion against God, than a discussion of the origins of the universe. While both topics provide legitimate points-of-contact with the unbeliever, the ethical issues are often more personal and challenging to sinners.
The defense of the faith requires more than a claim to know God. Where is the real defense of such a knowledge claim? The young or uneducated convert may offer powerful proof of his knowledge of God by means of a changed and godly conduct, while the Bible scholar may display a denial (by his attitude and conduct) of the very thing he professes to know. "They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed" (Titus 1:16; cf. also Jer. 5:2).
As the apologist rightly pursues a greater understanding and knowledge of the Christian faith, he must not neglect the pursuit of a godly and holy life. It is only when these two pursuits (knowledge and godliness) merge in the believer that we see him become an able apologist for the faith -- only then is the unbeliever disarmed and exposed. "In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us" (Tit. 2:7-8).
The apologist is not simply trying to overcome the intellectual arguments of the unbeliever. It is the unbeliever's evil and ethically rebellious nature that must also be overcome. And while we must destroy his speculations of mind (2 Cor. 10:5) with the truth of God's Word, we must also press the truth home to expose the unbeliever's ethical rebellion. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:21).
As the believer presupposes the truth of God's Word and becomes more and more epistemologically self-conscious, his attitude and actions will reflect this maturing grace. The inner conflict between the "old man" and the "new man" produce some degree of inconsistency in the believer.4 However, the overall behavior of the believer should make his position apparent. "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3:10).
The autonomous authority of the unbeliever gives rise to the conflicting situation where he must contend with an "accusing conscience" (Rom. 2:14-15) that stands over against his own autonomy. His conduct is not only inconsistent with his own worldview but he finds it impossible (using his worldview) to explain why. The unbeliever lives in a schizophrenic flux. This antithesis or inconsistency between the unbelieving worldview and the fact that he does "instinctively the things of the law" is a vital point where the unbeliever can be exposed. However, the believer who fails to demonstrate an ethical consistency with his own worldview is in no position to confront the unbeliever.
As the believer grows in sanctification the antithesis widens between himself and the unbeliever. The more the Holy Spirit applies the Word of God to the believer the more the believer thinks God's thoughts and assumes God's ways, resulting in an antithetical relationship to the thoughts and ways of the world. The believer's ethical senses are keen, having been "trained to discern good and evil" (Heb. 5:14). Moving in the direction of greater understanding and application of God's Word to his own life, the believer's revelational perspective of himself and the world grows more and more, and the chasm between himself and the unbeliever expands.5 Drawing such clear distinctions between believer and unbeliever provides the opportunity for a collision of worldviews.
Attitude and Conduct
The Christian may conceivably produce a valid verbal defense of the faith while projecting attitudes and conduct that are more consistent with the unbeliever's presuppositions. The believer may be tempted to approach the unbeliever with the attitude that unbelievers are "foolish" and "ignorant," so "let's blow them out of the water." A proper boldness must not be confused with arrogance and pushiness. The attitudes of patience and gentleness demonstrates not only a knowledge of God, but also the grace of God. We know God only by His gracious dealing with us when we were yet in unbelief.
The Lord requires that the Christian's attitude reflect His own longsuffering character: "Let your forebearing spirit be known to all men." The apostle Paul instructs Timothy: "And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:23-26). Such a godly attitude manifests the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and provides credibility to our verbal and intellectual defense. It also tends to disarm some of the hostility of our opponents when we do not "return evil for
evil" and when we "bless those who persecute" us (Rom. 12:14, 17).
Paul again couples the verbal defense of the faith with attitude and conduct as he instructs the Colossians, "Conduct yourself with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person" (Col. 4:5-6). What a shame for a Christian to logically win the argument only to lose the battle with an uncharitable spirit. The truth itself may offend, yet the believer should not conduct himself in an offensive manner.
It is Christians themselves who often prove to be the greatest obstacles -- the greatest arguments against the Christian faith. When believers conduct themselves consistently within their presupposition -- their worldview -- then the unbelieving world must sacrifice their primary weapon and the defense of the faith is made easier. "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:12). A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing when it is possessed by one who also possesses little grace. Such a believer, though perhaps well-intentioned, may come across as harsh and arrogant in the eyes of those with whom they are dealing. The shame we seek to produce in the unbeliever is a proper shame before God. We are not out to humiliate, ridicule or embarrass the unbeliever into submission. We must remember to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).
Paul showed proper respect to his audience at the Areopagus in Athens as he made his defense before that body (Acts 17:22-34). As he addressed the angry crowd at Jerusalem he likewise addressed them with respect: "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer" (Acts 22:1). Again, as he made his defense before King Agrippa, Paul showed godly gentleness and respect for the king: "In regard to all the things which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently" (Acts 26:2-3). Even in response to the hostile attack of Festus (Acts 26:25), Paul reacted with gentleness and reverence.
Credibility: Reputation and Engagement
The believer's attitude and conduct should provide the essential credit (i.e., credibility) he needs to back up his words as he defends the truth of the faith. As the bank account supports the check that is written, so the life of the believer determines the validity of his own words.6 In that sense, the believer should be continually adding to his account for future use.
It may be useful to divide the behavior of the apologist into two categories. First, the apologist must consider his past conduct in terms of his general reputation. Second, the apologist must also consider his particular conduct when he is engaging the unbeliever in a verbal and intellectual defense of the faith. The neglect of either category of behavior may effectively nullify the credibility of the apologist. A reputation is acquired over a period of time and is determined by the judgment of those who are in a position to observe our conduct. The believer's primary concern must be that he maintains faithfulness before God. When the believer walks in a manner that is pleasing to God, he then may proceed to deal with the unbelieving world with a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:16). The Christian should then be concerned that his reputation among fellow believers is such that the household of faith holds him in high esteem.
Finally, the believer must be above reproach in the eyes of the world. This does not mean that they will not slander him (cf. 1 Peter 3:16), but that the unbeliever will have no justifiable reason for speaking evil of the Christian. The Christian must reflect the character of his heavenly Father and provide a godly example. Moreover, the Christian himself is a demonstration of God's work, which is a part of God's revelation to the unbeliever. Ephesians 2:10 says that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus..." As "new men" God's redemptive work is revealed in our lives. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
The Christian apologist needs also to realize that, while he may have a good overall reputation as it relates to his past conduct, he may jeopardize his defense of the faith if he fails to maintain a godly attitude and conduct during his confrontation with the unbeliever. The defense of the faith is often emptied of its impact when the believer acts in an arrogant manner or looses his temper with the unbeliever. When the Christian acts in this way he has denied the Lordship of Christ and the grace of God. For the Christian apologist to get angry at the unbeliever for not submitting to the Christian faith is the equivalent of one who would get angry at a dead man for not living; it is to cease presupposing the necessity of a work of divine grace in the heart of the unbeliever. God has not only revealed in His Word what we are to say but He has also instructed the believer concerning how he is to say it.
Problem of Self-Confidence
As the Christian grows in his ability and confidence to offer a defense of the faith to the unbeliever he runs the risk of placing confidence in himself rather than in God. The apologist may find that he can handle the intellectual challenges of the unbeliever without much difficulty by employing good presuppositional apologetic methods and techniques. He may, however, forget that Ezekiel had to do more than speak to the dry bones; he also had to call upon the Spirit to breath life into those bones (Ezek. 37:7-10).
When the apologist trusts in himself rather than God, he no longer presupposes the truth of God's Word -- he has put his confidence in the flesh and contradicts that which he seeks to defend. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. wrote:
Too often, Christians study apologetics and gain confidence in themselves. This self-confidence exhibits itself in that they approach the non-Christian without the slightest acknowledgement of their need for God's help in the situation. Though they may be confident and work hard at defending the faith, it is seldom that such Christians see much fruit from their labor. They may confound the unbeliever but they will not convert him by their own power. We must be consistent in prayer before we approach our opponents and after we have spoken with them that we may be confident in Christ alone.7
The Christian apologist needs to grow in both the knowledge and grace of God. It is the grace of God that enables us to acknowledge where our knowledge of God comes from and produces the necessary humility in the believer and dependence upon God. It is God's grace that convicts us of our sins, and grants us repentance, and enables us to follow Him in obedience. In our pursuit of knowledge we may not leave off the pursuit of God's grace. Only when we possess both knowledge and grace are we adequately equipped for the apologetic task.
Presuppositional apologetics carries with it ethical implications. In fact, it demands that our attitude and conduct conform to our profession of submission to every word of God. It is only when words of truth are connected with the capital of godliness that the words of the apologist become effective and powerful to accomplish their purpose. Just as God's words and actions consistently bear witness to the truth, so too the believer's words and actions must consistently point to the truth and leave the unbeliever "without excuse."
When our attitudes and conduct reflect our presuppositions in a consistent way, then we will find ourselves to be more effective apologists. This is accomplished in several ways. First, it establishes credibility for our words when we are ethically consistent with our worldview. Second, it makes the antithesis between the believer and unbeliever more distinct and brings the Christian worldview into collision with the unbelieving worldview.
Finally, it gives us a "clear conscience" before God and puts the unbeliever to "shame." Our ultimate responsibility is faithfulness to God. We might not please, impress, defeat, or even repel the unbeliever as we defend the faith, but we can all, by the grace of God, defend the faith in a manner that gives glory to God and pleases Him.
1. For example, apologetics is comprised of theological, philosophical, epistemological and ethical aspects, all of which may be studied separately.
2. I am not arguing that evidentialists do not generally display godly conduct. I am arguing that their theory of apologetics cannot account for such a requirement.
3. Van Til, Cornelius, The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, NJ: 1971, p. 5.
4. Cf. Romans 7:14-25. We should note that this conflict between "old" and "new" man also provides a biblical and rational explanation for the limited inconsistency that does remain in the life of the believer; though the believer may not use this as an excuse for ungodly conduct. The unbeliever's worldview cannot account for his own ethical consistency.
5. A man must not only believe the truth, he must also practice the truth in order to understand it. "If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know the teaching, whether it is of God" (John 7:17).
6. The truth of the Christian faith itself does not rest on the credibility of the individual believer but rather upon the credibility of God Himself. However, as the believer speaks to defend the credible Christian faith, his own words may lack credibility due to his failure to demonstrate a life that is a godly example.
7. Pratt, Richard L., Every Thought Captive, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, NJ: 1979, p. 64.